Thursday, December 29, 2011

Nice People!

Time has flown! That the program is already 75% over, that classes are officially finished, that I have lived in 3 countries and studied at 3 universities over the last year and a half, and that soon I'll have a masters degree and get a job, it's all a bit amazing and exciting!  Seems like just yesterday I was heading to Scotland to start the program.

I've really enjoyed my time at each University, in each city and each country in different and distinct ways. It's been a privilege and joy to get to know and become friends with so many great people from so many different places in the program. And in each city to also meet so many other people from those places and others. My perceptions on so many small things have changed as result of the simple exchange of ideas, ways, and daily life with such a varied and genuine group of people. 

It's fairly cheesy, but I've never been with group of people that seems to care and share so much with each other. There really is very little selfishness. When people are sick, it seems there is always someone there bringing them lunch, dinner or making them a soup (like 3 weeks ago when Claudia made me potato soup!). Dinners are often cooked and shared with whatever is left in everyone's fridge, or when someone has a recipe or wants to cook something from home, they prepare it for more than people is necessary and invite whoever is around, and nobody is ever really hesitant to give up what they have for the group or to someone who needs it. Like a second family in some ways.

It is a dynamic and trait that I can't say I experienced very much in college at home or thereafter. In the fraternity in college and we helped each other out which I have plenty of good memories from, but that was in some ways a mutually exclusive endeavor and the service/volunteering was organizationally driven (like when you work for the company and they say they need to 'Give Back', you know it's just a load of self-driven marketing crap). I did a lot of volunteer work after college which was much certainly more genuine, but I still felt my stuff was my stuff most of the time and my time was my time. However, in regards to simple small things like sharing and helping amongst friends, acquaintances, and strangers, I'm not sure that was there as much. At the very least, it wasn't so evident or well expressed.

Traveling (outside of the program), in fact, for 3 months this summer and 6 last year, also helped a lot. Staying with many friends from the program and many random couchsurfers, I learned that, although a valuable use of time, you don't necessarily need to go to a homeless shelter to feel good about helping out. Instead you can learn a lot about just being a good, genuine person by experiencing others selflessly give to you their time, space, thoughts, and belongings in exchange for simple intangibles like knowledge, ideas, and friendship (as opposed to the bullet point volunteering gives you in an interview). It is the mentality that is the hardest part to acquire I believe. And that mentality translates to small things, like trying not to stare at the ground and pretend to ignore someone asking for money with your headphones in (guilty myself).... maybe even actually look at them. Or, realize it's okay to share and give up some things if it is a bit of an inconvenience. Or, being less selfish with your time and spending that extra little time helping a stranger out getting to their destination and even talking or trying to get to know them. I know first hand many many times, when a random person is unusually friendly or helpful, it can brighten your day and change your perception, and motivate you to do the same.

In the end, I am really glad I have met and became friends the last 3 semesters with such positive people who have such big hearts and have been a bit of a role model while helping me see things in new ways. And the people and hosts I have had while traveling, as I always say, give me confidence that there is still plenty of good people out there. I try to always remember this when I see people in public that get aggravated over tiny things. The world would be better if everyone was a little less cold, stressed, scared of changing, and seriously self-motivated (however idealistic that statement may be). 

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